Israel’s Tourism Ministry is preparing for the expected arrival of 90,000 tourists for Christmas, about one third of them pilgrims. Christmas in Israel is celebrated over a two week period by the different churches.

By the end of 2010 the ministry anticipates that 2.4 million Christian tourists will have visited the country and that the total number of tourists for the year will reach 3.45 million tourists – 26 percent more than 2009 and 14% more than 2008, Israel’s previous record year. Of these, 2.8 million stayed more than one night, the remainder being one-day visitors and cruise passengers.

The tourists and pilgrims are expected to visit the holy sites and participate in the masses to be held in Bethlehem and Nazareth.

Most pilgrims visit Bethlehem, the Western Wall, Christian sites in Jerusalem such as the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the Via Dolorosa, Mount of Olives and Capernaum.

The traditional Christmas Mass will take place at the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth on Friday December 24, following the colorful youth parade that takes place in the streets of the city.

Senior Tourism Ministry representatives and Nazareth Mayor Ramiz Jaraisy will welcome the leaders of the Christian churches, ambassadors and Christian community representatives at a festive reception at the Salesian Church on Thursday, December 23.